The 10 best things about the 2014 World Cup

By Paul Kennedy

Brazil 2014 has been the best World Cup of our lifetime. Beginning with the first three days that produced four comeback wins, the World Cup was, to borrow a line from ESPN's Jon Champion, the gift that kept on giving. From the dramatic -- half the knockout games weren't decided until stoppage time or overtime -- to the outrageous -- Luis Suarez bites again -- and the unfathomable -- Brazil loses 7-1 (or Spain loses 5-1) -- we'll be talking about the 2014 World Cup for years to come. Here are 10 best things about the 2014 World Cup.

1. James Rodriguez. If ever there was a player who wore his heart on his sleeve, it was James Rodriguez, who leads the race for the Golden Boot. A star was born before our eyes, and his joy was evident with each of his six goals, several of which could be the goal of the tournament. When the Cafeteros went out in brutal fashion to Brazil, James was also unafraid to show his disappointment, crying uncontrollably.

2. Last Call. Everyone should raise their glass to the folks at ESPN, whose World Cup run ends on Sunday. No organization has done more to make soccer important in the United States than ESPN, which first broadcast the World Cup in 1982, and it's been rewarded with record ratings. But ESPN's coverage has been more than just the game broadcasts. With its pre-game and post-game segments and evening shows, ESPN's World Cup coverage has matched anything we've ever seen abroad. It's been all tied together by the "Last Call" segment during which Bob Ley -- a veteran of the 1982 broadcast -- and his co-hosts have led the ESPN crew in a short soccer chat about the day's events -- as good a wrapup segment as ESPN has ever produced for any sporting event.

3. New York Times. In this day and age of media cutbacks, the New York Times stood out in pulling out all the stops with its coverage of the World Cup, reporting from across Brazil's 12 venues, and deep into the Amazon, where Jere Longman traveled to tell the story of how villagers took in Brazil-Mexico. (“The TV is angry with Brazil," a villager laughed when the TV went out at the end of the 0-0 game.) Sam Borden, whose magazine profile of Jurgen Klinsmann dominated the discussion of the U.S. national team even after its arrival in Brazil, was a must-read source of analysis of what went wrong with Brazil, laying out its culpability in the "environment of lawlessness" that led to Neymar’s injury and dissecting its 7-1 loss to Germany (complete with graphics). Like ESPN on the TV side, the Times could match up with any international media outlet in terms of its print and digital coverage. For that, American soccer should feel very proud.

4. Brazilian Mascots. American sports with their pre-game shows look silly in contrast to the solemnity of the pre-game routines at the World Cup, beginning with the assembling of the starters and walking on to the field with their young mascots. All you needed to do was watch the animation with which the young mascots sang the national anthem before Brazil games to see the pride Brazilians have in their country and how much it meant for them to try to win the World Cup.

5. Concacaf Keepers. At the end of the day, Germany's Manuel Neuer may be impervious, in a class by himself among World Cup goalkeepers, but Concacaf teams could play in the World Cup another 100 years and never get the goalkeeping that they got from Tim Howard, Guillermo Ochoa and Keylor Navas in Brazil. With his 16 saves against Belgium, Howard accomplished what he could not do in his previous 103 games for the USA and became a national celebrity, and he might rank third of the three Concacaf keepers in Brazil. Ochoa's flying stop to swat Neymar's header off the line was the save of the tournament. All Navas did in leading Costa Rica to the quarterfinals is get the first division stadium in his hometown of Perez Zeledon named after him.

6. Digital Media. Thanks to hidden cameras, smartphones and tablets, nothing happened at the World Cup that escaped inquiring eyes, from Neymar being wheeled into the Fortaleza hospital with a fractured vertebra -- the nurse who took the video was fired after shooting a selfie at the end of the video -- to Arjen Robben consoling his son after the shootout loss to Argentina. Who'll ever forget the image of Ghanaian defender John Boye leaving Room 301 at the Palace Brasilia Hotel, kissing his bundle of $100,000 in cash he'd just received? All captured by a camera TV Globo had placed in the walls of the hotel to catch the Black Stars collecting their elusive bonus money. (The next day, Boye scored an own goal and Ghana went out with a 2-1 loss to Portugal.)

7. Best Games. The problem with most World Cups is that they are front-loaded with snoozers -- during the group stage when most games are played: 48 of 64. That was not the case at the 2014 World Cup, where the tone for the tournament was set with a string of thrilling first-round matches. All of these games should be archived for future viewing:

Netherlands-Spain (5-1)
Costa Rica-Uruguay (3-1)
USA-Ghana (2-1)
Netherlands-Australia (3-2)
Germany-Ghana (2-2)
France-Switzerland (5-2)
USA-Portugal (2-2)
Algeria-South Korea (4-2)

8. The Bugs. Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 are going to be downright boring in comparison to the sights of Brazil 2014. A trip to Manaus meant stories about the river dolphins, electric eels, caimans and piranhas. One of the images of the World Cup turned out to be too good to be true. As ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap delivered a pre-game report on USA-Portugal from the Arena Amazonia in Manaus, a pair of giant cicadas appeared on his shoulder and microphone. He later explained the cool with which he did his report was because they had been placed there.  "If they'd just flown onto me," he tweeted, "I would have shrieked."

9. Six Golazos. The World Cup produced its share of golazos. Here are a half dozen favorites:

Robin van Persie, Netherlands (vs. Spain)
Tim Cahill, Australia (vs. Netherlands)
Lionel Messi, Argentina (vs. Iran)
Jermaine Jones, USA (vs. Portugal)
Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland (vs. Honduras)
James Rodriguez, Colombia (vs. Uruguay)

10. John Brooks' Celebration.
If one image will last from the 2014 World Cup, it will be the look of shear astonishment on the face of young John Brooks after he scored the winning goal for the USA against Ghana -- earning him (and his Wikipedia page) instant national fame and setting off wild celebrations across the country. He was so overcome by the emotion of the moment that he collapsed to the ground, burying his face in the grass.
14 comments about "The 10 best things about the 2014 World Cup".
  1. Terry Ellis, July 13, 2014 at 6:59 a.m.

    By far the best Mens world cup I have seen. Do wish they would get the diving and the silly offsides rule fixed but can't put that on the WC alone.

  2. David V, July 13, 2014 at 10:38 a.m.

    Big Kudos to ESPN... Big Kudos to Spain, their 8 year reign rescued the planet from ugly, defensive, less skillful, low scoring games (ironically, they were so dominant and feared that their opponents' style of play in trying to survive against Spain produced lower scoring Spain games as these fearful opponents would put 11 men behind the ball for most of the game and hope for one lucky counterattack to try to steal the game)... Read Tostao's comments about this cup and how it was Spain (over the past 8 years) who rescued the world and this cup from the past decades...Credit Germany and the other big national teams (do a google search and you can read about 10-15 of them, including Italy, and England (of course they're still very poor, but at least they realized), Brazil, and the list goes on)... at any rate, Credit these teams like Germany, who said and did emulate and study the Spanish, and guys like Schweinsteiger, who, for example, studied and copied Xavi's game

  3. David V, July 13, 2014 at 11:38 a.m.

    Love James... certainly made a name for himself, now he has a chance to play in a big league and a big club...looks like he'll make it to the top, Real Madrid is negotiating for him now...And did he score the goal of the tournament, this Hah-mess (James) Rodriguez... clearly it was either James with the chest trap and volley, or Tim Cahill's volley connecting on a long distance pass from over his shoulder

  4. Andrew Bermant, July 13, 2014 at 12:27 p.m.

    Kudos Paul, on a great article! This has been the best and most exciting World Cup since I attended Copa Mundial 1982 in Spain. Perhaps what made this Cup just so exciting was the venue: Brazil. The players, fans and World rejoiced in the passion of the game which is a reflection of the Hosts. My only criticism of the Cup is weak knee'd Disciplinary Committee's (i.e. Sepp Blatter's) 4 month ban on Suarez and exculpatory non-response to Zuniga's, careless, reckless, excessive and causing great bodily harm foul on Neymar. All FIFA referees and associated USSF referees (I am an USSF Grade 6 referee) are required by the Laws of the Game to sanction such fouls. For FIFA not sanction Zuniga's foul is utterly hypocritical, endorsing such behavior and irreparably damaging the Game.

  5. Carl Walther, July 13, 2014 at 1:45 p.m.

    Great article! Loved reading about all of the memorial moments of this World Cup. Truly this was the best one ever.

  6. James Madison, July 13, 2014 at 8:08 p.m.

    Well said, Paul! Everything you wrote brought back a favorable memory. The only item I would have added was GOetz's winning goal in the final. It was a notch better taken and under more stressful circumstances than Chandler's goal against Germany. I'be been watching Wcups since 1978, and this was the BEST, better even than being involved personally as a Host Committee member in 1994 (and at the July 4 Brazil-USA match) and in Germany in 2006.

  7. Ginger Peeler, July 13, 2014 at 11:36 p.m.

    The only truly detrimental thing I can say about this World Cup (besides the British play-by-play guys...but that's another story) is the utter lack of proper procedures to protect players who may have suffered a concussion. Three players in the tournament were allowed to continue play after blows to the head. Did you see Kramer's eyes as he went off the field with guys supporting him from each side? He was clearly unable to focus!!! Talk about scary! Our football (NFL) has finally gotten it's act together and has issued strict protocols regarding possible concussions. Amazingly, FIFA's still in the dark ages regarding the subject. And they're trying to pass the buck back to the teams. Sure, the players want to get back on the field. However, doing so may result in a career-ending injury or even death. So, let's protect the players...from themselves, if necessary. FIFA needs to address this, like, yesterday.

  8. Rick Estupinan, July 14, 2014 at 2:09 a.m.

    Ricardo Estupinan
    Just now ·
    So you think Messy is the greatest footballer ever ? , just watch videos of Zinedine Zidane . Every thing he did was spectacular , dribbling , passing , heading , scoring great goals , and even that memorable head but to that impertinent Italian , during that famous World Cup game against Italy .

  9. Rick Estupinan, July 14, 2014 at 2:27 a.m.

    So what's so detrimental about the play by play by the Brits ?,they are very knowledgeable about the real FOOTBALL,and that's why they were paid big bucks to broadcast all the matches,thank you.

  10. Ginger Peeler, July 14, 2014 at 3:43 a.m.

    That's my point...the Brits aren't calling play-by-play. At least 85% of the time, they're discussing statistics, down home stories about various players, what happened when x played y 6 years ago, trivia, factoids and factlets. Not too much comment about what the players are doing on the field. During this tournament, I watched several games where the announcers were so busy talking, they missed shots on goal! The beautiful game is partly made up of volleys, half-volleys, bicycle kicks, headers, Cruyfs, nutmegs and other wonderful and amazing moves. The British announcers are obviously VERY knowledgable about all of the European leagues and players and seem to feel it is imperitive to pass all of that info on to the tv audience. With my small screen TV, I'd rather have someone describe who is doing what with the ball while I watch. I can't make out the players' names and/or numbers, so I depend on the play-by-play guys to help me out. With the Brits? Not a happening thing...

  11. Ginger Peeler, July 14, 2014 at 3:52 a.m.

    Oh, and the Brits didn't call ALL of the matches. I watched at least 2 games where Fernando Palomo did the play-by-play. He, too, was very knowledgeable concerning the players, but didn't seem to feel the need to pass on all that information at the expense of calling the action on the field.

  12. Tim Gibson, July 14, 2014 at 1:16 p.m.

    For Soccer to grow faster than it already is in this country, we realllllly need to change the way we market it here & step 1 is to lose the British/Scottish announcers. Let them have their EPL broadcasts, but any Match/Tournament that the MNT is involved, we need to use CONCACAF announcers, play-by-play & color analysts. Why?'s simple to me, the average Joe with his Budweiser who tunes in for the 1st time & hears Steve McBananaman & Ian will lose interest in 30 seconds. We need to win over the average Joe and grow this game. We also have our own history now, our own heroes from teams past who can step in & do the mic work. Thanks Brits for inventing the game(so they say) but we now have our own style in CONCACAF & we also do not suck anymore. At least not as much as they did in this World Cup. GO USA!

  13. David V, July 16, 2014 at 2:47 a.m.

    Ginger, Rick... the Brit announcer a full of themselves (their homeland in their commentary)... for example, instead of referring to Mascherano during the final as the "Barcelona Man"... Ian the Brit Darke referred to him as the "former Liverpool man"... they are NOT knowledgeable about other leagues (oh, maybe a steve macmanaman is, because he made the big time and got to Real Madrid), but most are not... TOO MUCH COMMENTARY ABOUT England and what happens in English leagues...I don't care if he played a crummy Leeds or Nottingham forest, as if that was equivalent to bayern, Real Madrid, Barca, Juve, AC Milan, etc. GET THEM OFF OF OUR TV SETS... American public won't be foooled any longer by them... (unfortunately, dumb American parents who don't know the game think 4th division England rejects are something special and pay them big bucks for youth clubs)... next they'll be talking about the tower of London, parliament, and picadilly square... STOP THE INSANITY... REMOVE BRIT BROADCASTERS (if you must have them, because for some reason you're in love with their Queen, allow only 1 Brit per 9 other commentators).

  14. Alex G. Sicre, July 18, 2014 at 7:15 p.m.

    Awright David, You are right on.

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